Baseball umps, UCLA's John Wooden & Cougar Cruise: a travel blog in disguise
I'm feeling rather blue this morning. One of my heroes, former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, is in grave condition out in Los Angeles.
He's 99 and he's been joking for years about wanting to see triple digits on his drivers license. But the situation doesn't look good.
It has nothing to do with travel, so I 'm sorry about that, but I can't help reminiscing about my limited relationship with the man who arguably is the greatest coach of any sport at any time. It wasn't as crazily competitive as it is now, but to win 10 NCAA basketball championships in 12 years, seven of them in a row, is a feat that's simply impossible to imagine. His teams also won 88 straight regular season games and 38 NCAA contests in a row.
Take that, Duke.
I was lucky enough to be in the front row for every UCLA game in Wooden's last year, which was my first year as a political science student at the University of California, Los Angeles. We'd often camp out overnight to get what was called a priority number, which would be handed out early in the morning on game day. That would allow us to lineup an hour or so before game time and get a place at the front of the line without having to sit all day long and miss classes. It was a good system.
I was first or second in line for every home game in 1975, Coach Wooden's last year. And I was in the front row, usually in the centre seat, for every game. They'd open the gates an hour or so before the game and all of us who had lined up would sprint down five long flights of stairs to get to the court, which sits below ground level at the famous Pauley Pavilion. It was a hoot, although it's a miracle I never sprained an ankle. I'm not fast, but I'm pretty nimble and I was pretty brave about hopping four stairs at a time at age 18.
There were some setbacks that year, and it wasn't like UCLA had the biggest stars in the game. Bill Walton, now a way too chatty/borderline obnoxious TV commentator, had left. So had Keith Wilkes. But we still had Marques Johnson, who my girlfriend was in love with, and Richard Washington and a couple of spunky role players.
As luck would have it, the NCAA finals were in San Diego that year; just two hours from campus. So we all got tickets and drove down. UCLA got to the semis and just squeaked past Louisville, coached by former UCLA assistant Denny Crum, then toppled Kentucky in a fairly close final. Wooden announced prior to the Final Four that he was retiring, so we know this was it to see him in action. It was glorious.
But it isn't the game I really want to talk about. Instead, I wanted to talk about Wooden the man. He was competitive as can be on the floor, for sure. And he wasn't a saint as a coach. But as a man? Gentle and kind and unassuming as all get out.
Wooden had a book out in the 1970s, titled "They Call Me Coach." In it, he outlined his so-called pyramid of success; an old-fashioned building block of moral principles that he strongly believed led to his success. it's filled with ideas about loyalty, enthusiasm, cooperation and other issues that apply strongly to business as well as basketball.
It doesn't sound like an LA guy to many folks. But Wooden was a product of the Midwest; Indiana to be precise. They don't tolerate a lot of ego in smalltown Indianda - Bobby Knight notwithstanding.
He'd often take time before games to sign the books that people, including me, would bring to him. I don't have it with me right now, but I'm pretty sure if I go home and look on my bookshelf I'll find a copy and it'll say on the inside jacket, "Thanks, Jim, for your interest in this coach."
It's pretty much what he wrote for everyone. But he was patient and understanding and kind as all get out, and I'll never forget the class and dignity he has shown - and hopefully will continue to show - over an inspiring life.
Good luck to you, coach, and God Bless you and your family.SELIG - AN OLD NATIVE AMERICAN WORD FOR "LEADERSHIP VACUUM"????
On another sports note, I gotta say that I'm once again hugely disappointed in Bud Selig, the Hazel McCallion of sports. The commissioner of baseball had a great chance yesterday to overturn an obvious injustice by granting Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga his perfect game.
For those who missed it, Galarraga was one out from the third perfect game of this remarkable baseball season the other night when umpire Jim Joyce mistakenly called a runner safe on what should've been the last play of the game. Joyce, to his credit, admitted he screwed up. Royally.
The Tigers have been unbelievably gracious, which is wonderful to see And GM gave Galaragga a Corvette on Thursday.
But Selig sits in his New York office and, as usual, cowers instead of showing courage. Everyone knows Joyce blew the call. Joyce admits it. TV confirms it. So what if there's no instant replay in baseball? Start it. Now. Please, Bud. For once, take an issue by the horns and do something.
Anyway, my point on this isn't so much to rake Selig over the charcoal (not that that isn't fun) but to point out that a young baseball reporter was charged with interviewing an umpire at the SkyDome back in 1993. He knocked on the umpires door before a game in August in Toronto, and the crew shoved a fairly inexperienced major league ump in front of the reporter.
That reporter was me, in my second year covering the Jays. That umpire was Jim Joyce, in his fourth year as a big league ump.
He was helpful and cooperative and funny, to boot. It's also interesting to go back and look at comments he made about blowing calls.
"The best games I've ever worked are the games that people didn't notice me," Joyce said. "I just did my job."
Another comment jumped out at me.
Another comment jumped out at me.
I started my story with a short tale of how Joyce was once at home in Oregon, taking one of the three, one-week vacations that major league umps get each baseball season, when he got called in to help coach his son's Little League team.
"People pay their money to come out and second-guess the umpire," Joyce said in the interview. "I think I'm right most of the time but if I'm not doing my job people have a right to yell at me. They really do."
He was in the
coach's box at first base when a ball came down foul but then spun into
fair territory. Instinctively, Joyce pointed at the ground and yelled, "Fair."
The home plate ump had called it foul, but knew Joyce was a pro and went with the fair
call. Not so the opposing
The home plate ump had called it foul, but knew Joyce was a pro and went with the fair call.
Not so the opposing coach.
"He said, 'It's foul.' So I said, 'No, it's fair.' So the guy said, 'I'll show you the rule book.' And I said, 'I'd love to see that.'
"So he turned to me and said, 'Well, who do you think you are, a major league umpire?"
"So he gets the rule book and I show him where it says that where a ball settles - and that's the operative word, settles - in foul territory it's foul. But it hadn't settled in foul territory, it had settled fair, so it was a fair ball.
AND FINALLY....A TRAVEL ANGLE!
"I said, 'As a matter of fact, I am, ' and he said, 'Yeah, right, ' and turned around and walked away."
Great story in today's USA Today about cougar cruises. Not that I'm interested in one. I'm WAY too old to be a "cub," that's for sure. But I do find the whole concept bizarrely interesting, and it would be fun to check one out from a distance, just to watch the dance take place.
I'd love to try another cruise sometime. I've done the Caribbean but that was it. I"m thinking Europe would be fun, provided there's time to stop at ports and actually see something rather than simply dash on and off and do a 20-minute duty-free shopping trip....